This week I interviewed Harry Rice and David Torkington, two members of the team behind the highly anticipated Lagom Mind: a unique mental health app that will equip users to safeguard their own mental health. In this ridiculously fast-paced, “information-overload” era, in which we’re all expected to be fully reachable 100% of the time, this app sounds to me like a hugely valuable resource for everyone! I chatted with Harry and David, both currently studying for PhDs, to hear a little more about the app’s conception as well as their personal opinions on the progress of the international mental health conversation. Read on below!
So how did you come to set up Lagom Mind?
Harry (CEO): Towards the end of my time at Durham, I was experiencing some mental health difficulties, which resulted in having to delay my exams, and I didn’t receive any joined-up help. I saw counsellors at Durham, but that wasn’t joined up with anything at home. I was placed on a long waiting list for my local GP, and the stuff I eventually got offered just wasn’t really appropriate; for example, I was offered online-based help but nothing face to face. I was feeling incredibly low and I was having suicidal thoughts most days; at which point it all reached a head and I was lucky enough to be able to see a private psychologist. This really helped, and Lagom actually stemmed from the techniques he taught me.
Once you start to read around it, you realise that there really is a big issue going on, and that a lot of your peers are actually going through similar things that you may not have known anything about. My psychologist told me his clientele were getting younger and younger, and that the methods he was using to help me weren’t really available in a good digital platform – which is when I started thinking about Lagom.
David (CPO): It was around May last year that Harry reached out to myself, and the other members of the team. We were immediately on board because we recognised these issues in many of our friends and in ourselves, and so we really did want to help and play our part. Harry also knew we had an understanding of programming, and so that was the start of it all really!
When you speak about the “issues”, are you referring here specifically to mental health issues among university students?
Harry: Yes, we are. But when we were thinking about it, we realised it does of course continue into the transition between university and work, and so on. Those issues don’t go away and, especially among our demographic, a lot of people go into high stress, high powered jobs. We were speaking to a few of these people, asking what sort of safeguarding is in place for them, and many responded saying things like [e.g.] they were working very long hours and that they just weren’t really coping. But that’s the corporate culture of today. If people can start being proactive with safeguarding their mental health at university then hopefully they’ll be able to take that with them into the working world, and that will start a culture change. Our philosophy is that if the people you’re employing are happier, then of course they’re going to be more productive and this will be of ultimate benefit to the company.
So what exactly is the app, and how does it work?
David: The app has three core features. The first is our unique selling point, and it’s called “Perspective”. It’s an implementation of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), and it’s unique here because we focus on discussing why people are feeling good, and congratulating them for that, rather than on why you might be feeling bad (the traditional form of CBT). We believe that if you zoom in on negative emotions, there can be a tendency for people to ruminate on that too much, and so head further down the spiral.
The other two features are “Focus”, which is a mindfulness meditation that Harry has recorded and which is case-specific (e.g. students struggling with revision stress), and “Breathe”, which is a cathartic breathing animation. This is a visual metronome to help you with your breathing that you can whip out at any time, for any situation. “Focus” has a structure and is a guided meditation, whereas “Breathe” is purely visual.
What are your long-term plans for the app?
Harry: The difficult thing about apps like these is getting people to stick with them. CBT as an online version is known for being incredibly effective, but has a very high drop-out rate. We know these things work but it’s hard to keep going and stay motivated.
I know what you mean – I often think of meditation as being like antibiotics. We’re always told to keep taking antibiotics right up until the end of the course, even after we’ve started feeling better; and I know I’m the worst for doing a bit of meditation when I’m feeling bad and then thinking “Oh great, I feel better now, I’ll stop!”
Harry: Yes, exactly. These things don’t necessarily work when you’re in a crisis, and in fact that’s not really what they’re for.
David: Through using something like Lagom, you’re building resilience so that when something happens out of the blue, you’re equipped to deal with it.
Harry: But our ultimate aim is for the corporate side to fund the academic side.
David: We believe that students shouldn’t have to pay any kind of subscription. Of course universities have a responsibility for the welfare of their students, and so when the app is fully gamified, we’ll approach contacts we already have within universities with the goal being to have the university subsidise the app for the students – and this would be embedded into the welfare infrastructure they already have. The important thing is that it’s free for the students. But it doesn’t stop when you leave university – it’s a habit formed by practice, and so in theory, our subscribers would want to be able to use it as young professionals. So, eventually we’d like corporations to be using it, and, all being good, the corporate side will ultimately completely fund the academic side.
As we all know, there’s been huge progress in the last few years in terms of opening up the conversation around mental health. What are your opinions on this new era of mental health awareness? Do you feel as though enough is being done to increase awareness and support those who are suffering?
Harry: I don’t remember having any conversations about mental health at school, or even in my first two years at university, so obviously the current era is a brilliant thing as the first stage of – I don’t like the word, but – “stigma” is gradually coming down. I asked one of our podcast guests a similar question, and he’s International Rugby League; so five or six years ago you wouldn’t have thought he’s the kind of person who’d be talking about his mental health! But I guess the answer really is the fact that we’re talking on the phone right now about our experiences, which just wouldn’t have happened even a few years ago.
I’m not sure if enough is being done – there are still huge waiting times, there was a report this morning that said one in four young people with mental health issues get turned away. So there needs to be a transition from conversation into concrete action, and there needs to be a movement of people taking responsibility for their own mental health, safeguarding it so that it doesn’t reach a problem stage.
David: It wasn’t all going to change overnight. It’s a huge first step, but there is always more that can be done.
How do you envision the app fitting into this idea of moving forward past conversation into concrete action?
David: The app will hopefully provide the tool that people will be able to use to safeguard their own mental health. A really good qualifier that Harry mentioned earlier is that the app is not necessarily just for those who’ve already got a diagnosed condition, but for everyone, on a day-to-day basis, to care for their mental health. The conversational aspects (podcast and live events) will hopefully continue to improve the conversation around it.
Harry: It’s about enabling people to take autonomy over their own mental health. There will always, always be a necessary place in this for psychiatrists, GPs, etc., and that support needs to be available as well – but at our end of the spectrum, it’s about people taking control of their mental health and essentially preventing it from becoming a serious issue later down the line.
Do either of you have any final thoughts?
Harry: When you’re in a bad patch, you tend to think about how brilliant everyone else’s lives are, and how they all seem to be able to do anything they want – but as you grow with your own mental frailties, you realise that sometimes they can be a real blessing, and can completely change the way you view things. Having experienced it and come out the other side, I now know that when I walk into a room I’m most likely the strongest person in there.
If anyone wants to help test the app, you can email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, the aim is for the whole package to be available on both iPhone and Android in early 2019.